Even on social media, it is still largely only possible to fool some of the people all of the time – but unfortunately, as more people continue to utilize the platforms as their primary source of news, that could change for the worse.
A new study conducted earlier this month by BBC Education found that nearly half of young people aged between 11 and 16 tend to believe the news they see on social media – often regardless of the source. The trends in the UK are similar to what has been seen for years in the United States, where users of all ages often tend to trust almost anything a friend, relative and/or colleague shares with them.
Moreover, as a Gallup survey from last year also found, young people are increasingly receiving most of their news via social media. Though many question the creditability of what they read, too many are accepting it as fact.
“Considering the fact that those born between 2005-2010 have never experienced a world without social media and its dominance of modern culture, it’s hardly surprising to learn that such a large percentage of the age category have come to believe that the news being shared across their timelines, homepages and for your pages are a credible source of information relating to the wider world,” explained Sam O’Brien, chief marketing officer of partnership marketing platform Affise.
One factor said O’Brien was that social media influencers can often be of the same age of many of the platforms’ users – and as a result the young audiences are more inclined to believe and trust those opinions.
“While some social media outlets will of course be crediting trustworthy news sites for their information, a large number could be sharing unreliable, misleading and inaccurate sources, which may result in suggestible young audiences taking distorted or even fictitious stories and news as fact,” added O’Brien. “The BBC Education study revealed that social media is the most popular source of news, ahead of more traditional outlets like television and radio, news websites, and even parents.”
Where this can certainly be a problem is that so much content shared on social media can be misleading and biased, and already misinformation and even disinformation spread easily on the platforms.
“It is concerning that so many people, children or adults, use social media as their primary source for news. I realize modern media takes a variety of forms and utilizes a variety of platforms, but all readers and viewers must be discriminating of some types of news feeds or information that calls itself news,” said Professor Roy Gutterman, director of the Tully Center for Free Speech and associate professor of communications at the Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University.
Is It Even News?
Social media also makes it all too easy to set filters and only receive information about particular likes or interests, which means that much of the actual “news” of the day could be missing. More worrisome is what actually passes for news in the age of misinformation.
“Modern media not only allows users to tailor their news feeds to fit their interests or beliefs, but people have to distinguish between real news and hoaxes or misinformation,” Gutterman continued. “News literacy is important, but likely not something fully explored in schools. News itself has also become so politicized that some people don’t believe anything they read.”
As with TV, video games and other content in our digital age, it could be left to parents to ensure that they monitor what their children are seeing – and even posting.
“This shows how the adults have left the room. It’s our job to be helping 16 year olds discern what is trustworthy and credible online and what isn’t through day-to-day conversations,” said Professor Amy Bonebright of the Digital Media and Journalism Department at Liberty University.
“For example, when news of Roe’s reversal broke, I told my three kids – ages 11, 13, 14 – what the facts were (simplified and age appropriate, of course), and told them they would probably see people talking about it on social channels,” added Bonebright. “I wanted them to know the facts before they came across a video of some TikTokker spouting propaganda and emotion. And therefore, they should have some tools in their toolbox of critical thinking to help with all the information overload chaos.”
Will The Platforms Do Anything?
The social platforms have already shown that they’ve been unable to stop the flow of misinformation to the masses, so unfortunately there is little reason to suggest that they’d be able to ensure that such content doesn’t reach impressionable young minds. For those reasons, it could be all the more important to educate those not to believe everything that is on the Internet.
“If content is bot-generated, some platforms might be able to block some types of content,” Gutterman suggested. “Beyond encouraging people to view trusted sources, legally speaking I don’t think social media platforms have much responsibility in this arena.”
In fact, the spotlight that was cast on Facebook last year only suggests that it could be in the platforms’ interest to let the content flow. In other words, social media could create a world where you can fool all of the people all of the time.
“There might even be an incentive for social media platforms to not do anything in this arena because there’s an economic incentive for social media because they generate revenue from clicks and the crazier the content, the more people click on it,” warned Gutterman.